‘Stefan Gillespie’s secret mission takes him to Rome,
where evil stalks the Eternal City‘
– The City of God
[ About The City of God ]
Italy, 1943. Irish detective Stefan Gillespie leaves the chaos of Nazi-occupied Rome for neutral Switzerland on a mission his government knows nothing about. Waiting for a late-night connection in Zurich he sees a train that shouldn’t be there. The train’s SS guards, who shouldn’t be there either, beat him to within an inch of his life.
But Stefan’s perilous journey begins in Rome with the barbaric murder of an idealistic young Irish priest. The Eternal City is a place of vengeance, duplicity and betrayal that has even infected the City of God itself, the Vatican. In a war that is everywhere, not even neutrals, can escape the surrounding darkness.
[ My Review ]
The City of God by Michael Russell was published August 3rd with Constable (Little Brown) and is the eighth book in the Stefan Gillespie series. I haven’t read all the books in this series, but having read the brilliant book #7, The City Underground, I was delighted to be reacquainted with this very complex Irish Garda Inspector. It’s important to note that this is a book that can be read as a standalone and is the perfect novel for anyone who has enjoyed My Father’s House by Joseph O’Connor. My Father’s House is very much a portrait of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, an Irish priest who dedicated his time in Rome to aiding the escape of those running from the Nazi regime during the Second World War and, although a fictional retelling, there are many truths running through the book. In The City of God Michael Russell paints more of a landscape of the time, with Gillespie’s fictional character central to the plot and with some references to real-life events and characters. I have to mention the striking cover which I think really stands out on any shelf – bravo to the designer!
The City of God opens up with Gillespie making his way to Zurich’s Central Station. He is enroute to a meeting that the Irish government is unaware of, one where vital information is to be delivered. On the platform he sees a train, one containing unexpected voices and sounds. Gillespie is not supposed to be there and when he is spotted by the SS he is beaten close to death. In hospital, it is unsure whether he will live or die. Why was an Irish Inspector in Switzerland? What information was he carrying?
Two weeks previously, Gillespie was sent to Rome on a diplomatic mission, with living accommodation supplied at the Irish Embassy for the duration of his stay. His job was to retrieve some documents of a sensitive nature as discreetly as possible. Rome in 1943 was under German occupation. Movement around the city was challenging with German soldiers parading the streets picking up ‘enemies’ of The Reich as they went. Gillespie, being Irish, had the benefit of neutrality so he had certain immunity in his movements.
At that time Vatican City was beyond the remit of the Nazi regime, much to the frustration of the local SS Hauptsturmführer Ritter. This independence meant that the Vatican was often used as a temporary hiding place for those escaping the tyranny of the Nazis. When a young Irish priest is discovered brutally murdered, Gillespie finds himself caught up in something much bigger than was originally intended. Rome was a very hostile place for the Jewish community at that time with pure hatred and vitriol directed at them. Gillespie is disgusted by what he witnesses but also knows that his own personal safety is only very tentative. A wrong turn, a misdirected comment, assisting the wrong individual could all spell the end for him, no matter Ireland’s neutral stance.
As Gillespie’s role changes he crosses paths with real life figures Hugh O’Flaherty, the Irish singer Delia Kiernan, Ex-Minister Charles Bewley and many more. Intertwining these factual characters with Gillespie’s work adds a very authentic element to the novel, bringing this period of history very much alive. As with many historical novels I found myself down a rabbit -hole researching the people and places mentioned but it was the atrocities of the Croatian fascist movement The Ustaše that really shook me. I had never heard of The Ustaše and I’m finding it so very difficult to comprehend the depravity and horrific crimes committed at that time by these individuals.
In my review of The City Underground I mentioned its credible storyline and its cast of plausible characters. The same statement applies to The City of God. I had just finished My Father’s House and was immediately craving more so this novel by Michael Russell was the perfect choice for me.
The City of God is a brilliant novel. Its interweaving of fact and fiction adds a layer of credibility to the tale, vividly depicting a sense of time and place. The fear is palpable. The intense atmosphere is all very believable. There is a definite touch of the noir to Stefan Gillespie’s character with his cynical, tired yet resolute personality. Highly engaging and very compelling reading, The City of God is a book I am extremely happy to recommend.
[ Bio ]
After a successful career as a television writer and producer, working on such series as A Touch of Frost, Midsomer Murders and Between the Lines, Michael Russell decided to write what he had always wanted to: books. The City Underground is the seventh of his Stefan Gillespie stories of historical crime fiction, taking a sideways look at the Second World War through Irish eyes.
The first two Stefan Gillespie novels, The City of Shadows and The City of Strangers were both shortlisted for Crime Writers’ Association awards. Michael lives with his family in West Wicklow, in Ireland, not a million miles from Stefan Gillespie’s home.
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